BEST YORKSHIRE DAYS OUT USING PUBLIC TRANSPORT: Leeds by bus, train and water!

BEST YORKSHIRE DAYS OUT USING PUBLIC TRANSPORT: Leeds by bus, train and water!

A lot of families want to explore the best Yorkshire has to offer but without a car… so we thought at Yorkshire Families that we would start to share some of our favourite days out using public transport… beginning with Leeds, West Yorkshire.

I myself (Sophie Mei Lan) have a driver’s licence but no vehicle and I am determined to do what I can using public transport or by walking. Not only can it save money but it is better for the environment too and at times, I have found, it is less stressful than driving a car (YES I have been stuck on Leeds Ring Road a number of times!). So what is there to do in Leeds via public transport?

There are so many but here are some of the recent places we have visited and loved in Leeds City Centre!

Train  

As we live in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, we often get the train into Leeds if I have the energy to face the busyness of Leeds Train Station (that said the kids love it and it looks super pretty after its recent makeover). The train station itself is equipped with a few shops and lots of eateries from coffee shops to McDonald’s (the children’s favourite along with Subway), Pret a Manger (great for an affordable filter coffee), Wetherspoons (cheeps and cheerful but not child-friendly), Leon (my absolute favourite) and a Sainsbury’s (perfect if you forget picnics and snacks like I always do).

From Leeds Train Station main entrance you can easily access the city centre shops and Trinity Leeds and it is just a 10 minute walk to Millennium Square where you will find the brilliant Leeds City Museum (such a great free day out for little ones) as well as Leeds Art Gallery. Nearby there is also The Core Shopping Centre where we like to grab a slightly quieter bite to eat, The Merrion Centre and for a treat we love The Light Leeds.

Or if you come out of Leeds Train Station’s South Entrance you can easily access the city’s waterfront (River Aire).

The entrance has two escalators up to the concourse which provides access to either side of the river for passengers to get to Granary Wharf and Little Neville Street, or Holbeck.

Granary Wharf has lots of places to eat but the children’s favourite are Leeds Water Taxis. The boats (called Twee and Drie) ferry passengers from Granary Wharf to Leeds Dock. At Leeds Dock you will find Royal Armouries Museum which is well worth a visit.

Bus 

My favourite way to get to Leeds is via bus although it does take a lot longer this way (approximately one hour on the 110 Arriva bus from where we live in Wakefield to Leeds City Bus Station, which is only 20-30 minutes on the train).

Once arriving in Leeds City Bus station, there are lots of places to visit locally.

The bus station itself is nothing to shout about but at least it is quieter that Leeds Train Station and it has a Greggs and corner shop as well as vending machines.

Leeds City Bus station is literally next door to Leeds Kirkgate Market which has a huge array of fruit and vegetable stalls as well as an accessible food court with lots of independent food and drink vendors (you can get delicious fresh food cooked for you at an affordable price).

The bus station is also across the road from Victoria Leeds which is home to John Lewis and some higher end shops and eateries. It’s great with a pushchair or with older children.

Not only that, Leeds Playhouse theatre is also across the road with a new city facing entrance which makes it even more accessible (previously West Yorkshire Playhouse). We love going to the theatre to see family friendly shows such as The Bear which was on during half-term.

Yorkshire Families review of The Bear at Leeds Playhouse: 

“Charming and captivating! My 5 & 8 year old daughters were so engrossed, they forgot to ask for the sweets I’d brought them. I’m not sure I could give higher praise!?

This production is everything children’s theatre should be: beautifully made, witty, charming and light-hearted.

The Bear is adapted from the picture book by Raymond Briggs, the same writer behind The Snowman. Here, a relatable and enchanting little girl, Tilly is delighted when a polar bear climbs through her bedroom window. Despite the bear making trouble, in every toon in the house, her parents remain blissfully unaware and assume the ‘bear’ Tilly constantly charters about is part of her imagination. Which my girls found hilarious, as the bear is huge!

We thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the experience, from the welcome at Leeds playhouse, the wonderful acting on show, the seamless scene changes to the perfect duration and atmosphere for my girls. I’d thoroughly recommend for a family trip!”

Also nearby you have Yorkshire Dance and Northern Ballet who both run classes for children and adults. We recently attended a free family festival at Yorkshire Dance where we did a Bollywood Dance Workshop.

 

So whether you’re visiting Leeds by bus, foot, train or even boat… there are so many things to do! Let us know your favourite day out on social media @yorkshirefamilies on instagram/facebook and @yorkshirefams on twitter.

A MULTI-CULTURAL FAMILY: A new Yorkshire theatre production explores cross-cultural families

A MULTI-CULTURAL FAMILY: A new Yorkshire theatre production explores cross-cultural families

At Yorkshire Families we want to represent ALL families who live or want to experience the region regardless of background and any barriers whether it cultural or financial etc. Our founder Sophie Mei Lan aka Mama Mei comes from her own unique background which has been/is full of lots of challenges but with a passion for the county! So we’re excited to see that there’s a new theatre production exploring cross-cultural families coming to Leeds, West Yorkshire.

Missing People by Pinter Prize-winning playwright Brad Birch explores the similarities and mistranslations of a Japanese and British family thrown together by a cross-cultural marriage. This is the first co-production between Leeds Playhouse and Kani Public Arts Center Japan, opening in Leeds from 12-21 March, following its Japanese debut at the New National Theatre in Tokyo and at Kani Public Arts Center. 

Missing People is co-directed by Leeds PlayhouseAssociate Artist Mark Rosenblatt and Kani Public Arts Center Associate Director Nobuhiro Nishikawa. The production is the centrepiece of a creative relationship shaped over two decades, sharing working practices for staff and artists across cultures and offering an insight into each other’s sector-leading organisations.

Rehearsal images show British actors Ishia Bennison (Romeo And Juliet, Royal Shakespeare Company) and Simon Darwen (Skellig, Nottingham Playhouse) alongside Japanese actors Susan Hingley, Hiroki Tanaka, Yutaka Oda, Yuri Eikawa and Natsumi Nanase.

This new play focuses on a multi-cultural family who are not as serene as they first appear. Sakiko, a Japanese woman, and her English fiancé Dan have returned to her hometown of Kani, a commuter town near Nagoya, to introduce Dan and his mother Linda to her parents so they can plan their wedding. However, under the calm surface is a family in crisis, struggling with the loss of Sakiko’s brother. As she seeks the truth about her brother, Sakiko is forced to confront her own past, her own ‘disappearance’ to live in the UK, and where her own choices have led her.

The Missing People creative team includes Rumi Matsui, a Tokyo-based set designer and scenographer; Japanese artist Rie Nishihara, who has designed the costumes; lighting designer Elliot Griggs; sound designer Matt Padden; movement by Sachi Kimura; script translator Keiko Tsuneda;and translator in the room Mikiyo Usui.    

The production is part of a series of official public events that make up the Japan Season of Culture, which aims to build public support ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The Tokyo 2020 Cultural Olympiad was originally launched in 2017 with a ceremony in the city’s Nihonbashi district featuring performances fusing traditional arts with modern technology.  

Missing People is supported by the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation.

Missing People, Courtyard Theatre, Leeds Playhouse

12 – 21 March, Press Night Mon 16 March, 7.45pm

Box office 0113 213 7700. Book online leedsplayhouse.org.uk

THE BEAR: Half-term family show at Leeds Playhouse for children

THE BEAR: Half-term family show at Leeds Playhouse for children

Ever wondered what it would be like to sit on a polar bear‘s lap? Or ride on its back? Have you ever tried to give a bear a bath?

 

Probably not. But now you can spend some quality time with an enormous snowy white bear at Leeds Playhouse when Raymond Briggs’ magical story The Bear is brought to life on the Courtyard stage.

 

One night when Tilly is fast asleep, a huge bearclimbs into her bedroom. It has a long black tongue and a yawn as big as her head. But, still, she’s not scared.

 

The Bear is a heart-warming, humorous tale from the team that brought young theatregoers the hugely successful Father Christmas. Pins and Needles Productions are delighted to be sharing another of Raymond Briggs’ much-loved storybooks, including dazzling puppetry, unforgettable music, dreamy storytelling, and more laughs than there are penguins in Antarctica (i.e. a lot).

The cast of The Bear includes: 

Abby Wain (Tilly) – All that’s solid Melts into air (Tangled Feet, National Theatre), Alice’s Adventures Underground (Les Enfants Terribles, The Vaults), A Tale of Two Cities (Red Shift Theatre Company, Hong Kong), Fried chicken (Bounce Theatre, Kingston Theatre), Alice in Wonderland (Derby Theatre)

Elena Stephenson (Mum / Puppeteer) – Wendla in Spring Awakening, Hecuba in Trojan Women. Noted portrayals include Hero in Much Ado About Nothing (Trickster Theatre) and Desdemona in Othello (Trickster Theatre), Elaine in Breathing Corpses (Sweet Venues, Edinburgh Fringe), Netflix US, in the role of Claire Morris in Nurses Who Kill and in the upcoming film Redcoat, which will be available to view on Amazon Prime.

John Winchester (Dad / Puppeteer) – Oi Frog & Friends (Kenny Wax Productions/ Pins and Needles Productions); The Scarlet Pimpernel (Pimpernel Productions); Cinderella (Imagine Theatre); A Christmas Carol and Lovers (Cumbernauld Theatre); Dick McWhittington (Perth Theatre), The Demon Headmaster (CBBC); Anna and The Apocalypse (Blazing Griffin Films); A Long Long Crime Ago (CBBC); Grandpa in my Pocket, The Ha Ha Hairies (Adastra Creative/CBeebies).

 

The Bear is a not-to-be-missed experience for the whole family and a perfect introduction to theatre for little people with big imaginations.

So, why not bring your very best bear to Leeds Playhouse and join Tilly and her great big white friend on a wild and magical adventure?

The Bear, Courtyard, Leeds Playhouse

18 – 22 Feb. 

Box office: 0113 213 7700; leedsplayhouse.org.uk

 

OLIVER TWIST AT LEEDS PLAYHOUSE: Casting announced for new adaptation

OLIVER TWIST AT LEEDS PLAYHOUSE: Casting announced for new adaptation

Leeds Playhouse and Ramps on the Moon have announced the full cast for their bold new version of Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist.

Directed by Leeds Playhouse’s Associate Director Amy Leach (The Night Before Christmas, Hamlet, Road, Romeo & Juliet) and adapted by award-winning playwright Bryony Lavery, it will starBrooklyn Melvin in the role of Oliver, aided and abetted by a gang of wily pickpockets led the Artful Dodger, played by Nadeem Islam, who’s best known for presenting the BBC’s See Hear series, and Caroline Parker MBE as Fagin (Our Country’s Good, Ramps on the Moon and Nottingham Playhouse UK Tour).

Nancy will be played by Clare-Louise English, making a swift return to Leeds Playhouse after appearing in Graeae/Theatre Royal Plymouth’s One Under commissioned by Ramps on the Moon in the Courtyard in November 2019, with Stephen Collinsstepping into the brutal boots of Bill Sikes (the spelling taken from Charles Dickens’ original text).

The cast will be completed by Katie Erich as Rose, Rebekah Hill as Luna, Georgia Jackson as Fingers, Steph Lacey as Mrs Thingummy, Jack Lord as Mr Brownlow, Craig Painting as Mr Sowerberry, Mitesh Soni as Charley Bates and Benjamin Wilson as Mr Bumble.

Director Amy Leach said: Oliver Twist is a vivid, dark and visceral story and I am really excited to explore how adding artistic layers of creative sign language, audio description and captioning can enhance the storytelling for all audience members. I can’t wait to get started with the amazing OliverTwist company. I feel so lucky to get to create this production with such a wonderfully talented and versatile ensemble of D/deaf, disabled and non-disabled actors. I can’t wait to share Bryony’s very special adaptation with audiences around the country.”

Oliver Twist builds on the success of previous Ramps on the Moon productions including Our Country’s Good, The Who’s Tommy and The Government Inspector.

The creative team includes Designer Hayley Grindle, Lighting Designer Joe Fletcher, Sound Designer John Biddle, Composer Oliver Vibrans, Associate Director Hannah Quigley, Puppet Director Rachael Canning, Dramaturg Jenny Sealey, Projection Designer Akhila Krishnan, BSL Consultant Daryl Jackson, Audio Description Consultants Benjamin Wilson and Chloe Clarke, Lead BSL Interpreter Dave Wycherley, Creative Enabler Kirsty Pennycook, Creative Assistant Directors Nicole Joseph and Adam Bassett and Casting Director Kay Magson CDG.

This thrilling production will open at Leeds Playhouse in February ahead of visiting Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Nottingham Playhouse, Sheffield Theatres, New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich and Theatre Royal Stratford East, who are all part of the Ramps on the Moon consortium alongside Graeae, the UK’s leading disabled-led theatre company.

Every performance of Oliver Twist will feature integrated creative sign language, audio description and captioning. The production plays in Leeds Playhouse’s Quarry Theatre from 28 February – 21 March 2020 ahead of a UK tour.

Oliver Twist, Quarry Theatre, Leeds Playhouse

Fri 28 Feb – Sat 21 March 2020.

Box office 0113 213 7700. Book online: leedsplayhouse.org.uk

 

Full tour information

28 Feb – 21 March 2020
Leeds Playhouse
0113 213 7700
www.leedsplayhouse.org.uk

For Leeds Playhouse Oliver Twist is sponsored by Access Partner, Irwin Mitchell.

25 March – 4 April 2020
New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich
01473 295900
www.wolseytheatre.co.uk

16 – 25 April 2020
Nottingham Playhouse
011594 19419
www.nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk

29 April – 9 May 2020
Birmingham Repertory Theatre
0121 236 4455
www.birmingham-rep.co.uk

13 – 23 May 2020
Crucible Theatre, Sheffield
0114 249 6000
www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk

28 May – 6 June 2020
Theatre Royal Stratford East
020 8534 0310
www.stratfordeast.com

Writer Bryony Lavery was born in Wakefield and is one of the UK’s most well respected and prolific playwrights. She is best known for her award-winning play Frozen which recently played in the West End featuring Suranne Jones. Bryony’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol played at Leeds Playhouse in 2010. She has had a long and varied career, including writing plays for the National Theatre and Frantic Assembly.


Director Amy Leach
joined Leeds Playhouse as Associate Director in 2017. She directed Hamlet, A Christmas Carol and Road during the theatre’s acclaimed Pop-Up Season. She previously directedTalking Heads, Queen of Chapeltown, Romeo & Juliet, Kes, The Night Before Christmas and Little Sure Shot.

Amy is committed to placing accessibility and inclusion at the centre of her work. During the Pop-Up Season, her production of Road included integrated live audio description, her production ofHamlet was the first Leeds Playhouse production to trial the National Theatre’s groundbreaking caption glasses, and she was instrumental in forming the Playhouse’s partnership with Mind the Gap’s Staging Change initiative which encourages professional opportunities for learning disabled actors and creatives. In autumn 2019, Amy directedThere Are No Beginnings by Yorkshire writerCharley Miles, the first production in Leeds Playhouse’s new studio theatre the Bramall Rock Void. This production featured creative audio description at every performance. For Christmas 2019, Amy directed The Night Before Christmaswith every performance D/deaf friendly using integrated creative sign language.


Ramps On The Moon is a consortium of seven major theatre companies
committed to putting Deaf and disabled artists and audiences at the centre of their work; to accelerate positive change, explore opportunities and stimulate awareness of disability issues within arts and culture. The project is supported by public funding through the Arts Council’s Strategic Touring programme – the largest award of its kind. The consortium venues are New Wolsey Theatre, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Leeds Playhouse, Nottingham Playhouse, Sheffield Theatres, Theatre Royal Stratford East and Graeae Theatre Company.


Leeds Playhouse is celebrating its 50thanniversary in 2020.
It is a cultural hub, a place where people gather to share stories and to engage in world class theatre.

The Playhouse makes work that is pioneering and relevant, seeking out the best companies and artists to create inspirational theatre in the heart of Yorkshire. From large scale spectacles to intimate performances, the Playhouse develops and makes work for the stage, found spaces, tours, schools and community venues.

A dedicated collaborator, Leeds Playhouse works with distinctive, original voices from across the UK. Its Artistic Development programme, Furnace, discovers, nurtures and supports new voices, while developing work with established practitioners. It provides a creative space for writers, directors, companies and individual theatre-makers to refine their practice at all stages of their career.

The Playhouse’s sector-leading Creative Engagement team works with more than 12,000 people aged 0–95 every year. It runs a range of weekly workshops and exciting creative projects using theatre to reach out to refugee communities, young people, students, older people and people with learning disabilities.

Leeds Playhouse now has a building to match its wide-ranging, far-reaching ambitions. As a result of a £15.8m transformation in 2019, it now offers improved access to and around the theatre, a city-facing entrance and a new studio space, the Bramall Rock Void.

 

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS: Festive family show for young children at Leeds Playhouse – Review

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS: Festive family show for young children at Leeds Playhouse – Review

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at Leeds Playhouse with its fun festive family show, The Night Before Christmas, perfect for young children. 

Yorkshire Families went along to the Courtyard Theatre in Leeds Playhouse for the latest production at the new facilities.

After marching through the hustle and bustle of Leeds City Centre at Rush Hour, we were relieved to be able to escape into the stunning purpose-built building that is Leeds Playhouse’s new home. The city facing entrance helps to make the theatre feel more accessible. The bright lights were a welcome aim in the darkness.

We made our wait into the Courtyard Theatre to review The Night Before Christmas, perfect for 3-6 year olds (there’s also Snow Mouse on at the moment for 0-3 year olds and The Wizard of Oz for older children).

My friend and I had brought along our there kids straight from school, so we were all a bit stressed and rushed as we took to our seats.

But within moments, we were transported to the gentle land of Carol and Elf at home on Christmas Eve.

The show is all in sign language and rather than it be an addition it is an integral part of the characters;’ communication on stage, which was great to see.

All the stresses of Christmas seemed to whirl away into the twinkling stars above Carol’s house.

Lladel Bryant (Elf) and Alexandra James (Carol) in The Night Before Christmas at Leeds Playhouse. Photographs by Anthony Robling (2)

The setting is simple and the show features two main characters who communicate through sign language, speech and “Elvish.” I wasn’t sure how the kids would react to such a calm production but surprisingly they were engulfed into the beautiful friendship between Carol and elf.

There were nice touches of dancing and costume changes too as well as lovely parts where the characters came into the audience.

As the snow settled on Carol’s house ready for Christmas Day, we too felt relaxed and in the Christmas Spirit for the big day.

The Official Lowdown

Production images give a glimpse of the twinkly Christmas Eve sky above the small, neat home of Carol (Alexandra James) as she prepares for another ordinary day in her ordinary life. But then something extraordinary happens. Elf (Lladel Bryant) drops in – literally – and turns her world upside down, leading to rooftop adventures, ice dancing, a search for Santa and, best of all, a firm festive friendship.  

The Night Before Christmas by Robert Alan Evans(Crumble’s Search for Christmas, Kes, Leeds Playhouse) proved a big hit with audiences of all ages when it was first staged at Leeds Playhouse in 2015. Now, director Amy Leach (A ChristmasCarol, Kes, Leeds Playhouse) has added a dynamic new dimension for Christmas 2019, introducing creative use of sign language to make every performance D/deaf friendly, while giving Carol the perfect tool to communicate with Elf, who only speaks Elvish.

The Night Before Christmas, Leeds Playhouse’s Courtyard Theatre

30 November 2019 – 28 December. 

Box office 0113 213 7700. Book online: leedsplayhouse.org.uk

WIN A family ticket for The Night Before Christmas in the Courtyard at Leeds Playhouse, West Yorkshire

WIN A family ticket for The Night Before Christmas in the Courtyard at Leeds Playhouse, West Yorkshire

The Night Before Christmas at Leeds Playhouse – a magical festive adventure for all the family… and you can win four tickets with Yorkshire Families! 

 The Night Before Christmas is the fabulously festive family show that will be lighting up the Courtyard Theatre at Leeds Playhouse from 30 November – 28 December.

Leeds-based actor Lladel Bryant, as Elf 30046, is an old friend ofthe Playhouse. He was one of ten northern actors who formed Leeds Playhouse Ensemble, a dynamic repertory company who performed a series of productions during the 2018-19 Pop-Up Season. He joins Alexandra James as Carol, who is not as Christmassy as her name might suggest – at least until she meets Elf when he tumbles down her chimney.

The Night Before Christmas by Robert Alan Evans (Crumble’s Search for Christmas, Kes, Leeds Playhouse) proved a big hit with audiences of all ages when it was first staged at Leeds Playhouse in 2015. Now, director Amy Leach (A Christmas Carol, Kes, Leeds Playhouse) has added a dynamic new dimension for Christmas 2019, introducing creative use of sign language to make every performance D/deaf friendly, while giving Carol the perfect tool to communicate with Elf, who only speaks Elvish.

Amy Leach, Leeds Playhouse Associate Director, said: ‘We’re so excited to bring The Night Before Christmas back to the Playhouse. Elf and Carol’s inspiring friendship shows how learning, understanding and communicating across so-called language barriers is not only possible, but essential and enriching. Our new production is a Christmas show for all – it’s accessible and completely captivating.’

Carol and Elf set off on the festive adventure of a lifetime in a magical world created by designer Amelia Jane Hankin (Rudolph, Leeds Playhouse; The Tiger’s Bones, Lakeside Arts, Polka and Leeds Playhouse), with lighting design by James Whiteside (Sleeping Beauty, Chichester Festival), sound design by composer Dom Coyote (The Story Fishers, National Theatre), and movement by Leeds-based associate choreographer Pauline Mayers based on original choreography by Lucy Cullingford.

Expect nifty rooftop antics, eccentric dance routines, timeless tunes and fabulous festive fun. However you communicate, The Night Before Christmas is the show everyone will be talking about.

PRIZE: Win a family ticket (for four) for The Night Before Christmas in the Courtyard at Leeds Playhouse at 4.30pm on Friday 20 December.

To win a family pass just go to our Instagram post and make sure you’re following us on instagram and Leeds Playhouse.

The Night Before Christmas, Courtyard Theatre, Leeds Playhouse, 30 Nov – 28 Dec

Box office: 0113 213 7700; www.leedsplayhouse.org.uk

 

 

YORKSHIRE YOUNG ACTORS on a journey to The Wizard of Oz at Leeds Playhouse

YORKSHIRE YOUNG ACTORS on a journey to The Wizard of Oz at Leeds Playhouse

As the cast of The Wizard of Oz prepare to take audiences on a magical adventure along the yellow brick road at Leeds Playhouse this month, it’s time to meet Lucy Sherman and Agatha Meehan, who will star as alternate Dorothys during the festive run from 20 November 2019 to 25 January 2020.

These images show the young local actors with their new best friends, Doris and Scruff, who will be playing Toto, Dorothy’s faithful four-legged companion on her journey to the Emerald City alongside a stunning puppet designed and created by Charlie Tymms (Life of Pi, Sheffield Theatres, Running Wild, UK tour).

In this timeless story of adventure and friendship, directed by James Brining (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Sunshine on Leith, Leeds Playhouse) and designed by Simon Higlett (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Leeds Playhouse), the Munchkins and a number of ensemble roles are being played by local children in two teams – Team East and Team West.

James opted to cast a young ensemble and two real-age Dorothys to heighten the tension and ramp up the energy of this timeless tale: ‘Having a child play Dorothy brings out the jeopardy of the story. As soon as a child steps into Dorothy’s ruby slippers, the whole energy of the piece changes. There’s more vulnerability and an increased sense of responsibility on behalf of the adults for the child, for someone so young and small. I’m also very conscious of having young people in the audience watching the story and identifying with the protagonist – that’s a very powerful thing.’

The Wizard of Oz will play in Leeds Playhouse’s Quarry Theatre, which reopens this Christmas following the building’s dramatic £15.8m redevelopment.

The theatre will host a sing-along performance of The Wizard of Oz on Friday 13 December, inviting the audience to dress up, sing out and join in the fun. Relaxed and Dementia Friendly performances will also be available, and there will be a selection of bespoke wrap-around and inschool activities led by the Playhouse’s award-winning Creative Engagement team.

There’s no place like home

Leeds Playhouse Artistic Director James Brining talks about his fresh, dynamic take on The Wizard of Oz – and why it’s the perfect show to mark the theatre’s first Christmas in its newly redeveloped home. 

Why have you chosen The Wizard of Oz for the Playhouse’s first Christmas after its £15.8 million redevelopment?

‘The Christmas show in the Quarry at the Playhouse is a big event that attracts tens of thousands of people. For many, it’s a special occasion that marks the festive season, so we’re always looking for a show that can unite an audience in celebration.

The Wizard of Oz is a story of people triumphing over challenging odds. It’s full of peril, jeopardy, excitement and hope, but it should also make people feel inspired, positive and joyful.

‘Theatrically, it gives us the opportunity to make the most of the amazing space that is the Quarry Theatre. It’s a chance for us to stage a fantastic, affirmative theatrical event. The notion of ‘there’s no place like home’ is particularly interesting because, this year, we’re back in the theatre after our redevelopment. It’s brilliant to welcome people back with a show of this scale – it feels appropriate as a celebration of the monumental year we’ve had.’

What, for you, are the key themes of The Wizard of Oz? And what new elements are you striving to bring out?

‘The story is so well known but now, having worked on it so closely, I have found lots in there I hadn’t recognised or maybe had just taken for granted before. It really repays a fresh look.

‘It’s about a child who’s let down by lots of people, particularly adults, and isn’t having an easy time. She has to battle really hard to discover who she is and, in the process, she enables other people to discover who they are and what their positive and affirmative qualities are.

‘The approach we’re taking is to make it feel as inclusive as possible so that it represents a contemporary view of the world rather than an old-fashioned view. It’s a cherished story still very much set in its original time, but ours is a modern telling that’s very accessible to audiences.’

You’ve chosen two young local actors to play Dorothy – 12-year-old Agatha Meehan and 14-year-old Lucy Sherman – and have also cast a young ensemble. Why was this important to you?

‘Having a child play Dorothy brings out the jeopardy of the story. As soon as a child steps into Dorothy’s ruby slippers, the whole energy of the piece changes. There’s more vulnerability and an increased sense of responsibility on behalf of the adults for the child, for someone so young and small. I’m also very conscious of having young people in the audience watching the story and identifying with the protagonist – that’s a very powerful thing.

‘Lucy and Agatha are working so hard. The show asks a lot of them, but they are really excellent. I’m so impressed with them; they’re both very skilled and talented and also have a wonderful open enthusiasm.’

Why is the character of Dorothy still so beloved by audiences?

‘Dorothy helps liberate people and communities by her actions, and her personality – she’s always completely without ego. She takes other people along with her, inspiring them to make a change in their own lives. The potential of a child to change the world is a really powerful idea. Adults can often be much more aware of risk, failure and disappointment. What I find interesting here is that you have a child who’s put into a position where she has to act beyond her years, and she achieves everything she sets out to do.’

What can people expect from Leeds Playhouse version of The Wizard of Oz?

‘All the classic elements will be there – the ruby slippers, the yellow brick road, the Wicked Witch – but there will be so much more besides. Aerialists, puppetry, real animals – our aim is to not only match people’s expectations but to surpass them. We’re also using projections to energise the aesthetic and bring a new dynamic element to the show.

‘For me, the yellow brick road is an interesting metaphor. It’s obviously a real thing in the story but it also represents a journey, growth and companionship. Also, for me, it represents faith; not in a religious way but in the possibility of achieving something that initially seems impossible. It shows how, if you set out with purpose in good company, you can achieve a goal that you never could have imagined achieving by yourself.’

What’s your personal relationship with The Wizard of Oz?

‘I don’t know whether it’s a generational thing, but when I was growing up there were films that seemed to be on the telly all the time, every year, andThe Wizard of Oz was one of them. The story has entered the national consciousness to a certain extent. There are certain lines in it that have become iconic, almost Shakespearean in their recognisability. Like “I’ll get you my pretty” and “I’m melting” – they’ve become part of popular vernacular.’

Has working intensely on The Wizard of Oz changed your view of the story?

‘Working so closely on it means I’ve got to know it really well. The Wizard of Oz is such a complex and interesting story that it has almost taken on mythological proportions, moving beyond its narrative and becoming a powerful emotional arc.

‘The technique of having a reality that is, in effect, in a dream world is something I’ve realised I’ve done quite a lot in my other work, in other shows, almost subconsciously referencing The Wizard of Oz as a source idea. The idea that there is a reality and then there’s an alternative reality based on that reality is a very rich, dramatic and incredibly neat structure to make a piece of work from.’

Who do you think Leeds Playhouse production of The Wizard of Oz will appeal to?

‘It’s tempting to say “all the family”, but it’s a story that reaches even further than that, to people who don’t have a family, to everyone in fact. It’s a great story that, as the Playhouse, we will deliver with an integrity, depth and warmth.’

What makes The Wizard of Oz in the Quarry special? What sets it apart?

‘For me, it’s not just about the songs and the spectacular elements, it’s about interrogating the story, and making it clear and gripping and exciting. I want to make it about something; about courage and friendship and the possibility of transformation and community.

‘We will, of course, deliver on the songs and the dancing and the spectacular elements, but with added dynamism and freshness. I want people to experience things they didn’t expect to see.

‘It’s a family show, but it’s also more than that. It’s a classic story, and we do classic stories very differently at the Playhouse. We respect the original, but present it in a way that feels fresh, modern and completely unexpected.’

The Wizard of Oz, Leeds Playhouse’s Quarry Theatre

20 November 2019 25 January 2020. Press Night Tue 26 November 2019, 7pm

Box office 0113 213 7700. Book online leedsplayhouse.org.uk

An interview with the director

THE WIZARD OF OZ

By L. Frank Baum

With Music and Lyrics by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg

Background Music by Herbert Stothart

Dance and Vocal Arrangements by Peter Howard

Orchestration by Larry Wilcox as revised by Toby Higgins

Adapted by John Kane for the Royal Shakespeare Company

Based upon the Classic Motion Picture owned by Turner Entertainment Co. and distributed in all media by Warner Bros.

Leeds Playhouse opened nearly 50 years ago. It is a cultural hub, a place where people gather to tell and share stories and to engage in world class theatre. The Playhouse makes work which is pioneering and relevant, seeking out the best companies and artists to create inspirational theatre in the heart of Yorkshire. From large scale spectacles to intimate performance, the Playhouse develops and makes work for the stage, found spaces, touring, schools and community venues. As dedicated collaborators, Leeds Playhouse works regularly with other organisations from across the UK, and some of the most distinctive and original voices in theatre today. Through their Artistic Development programme Furnace, they develop work with established practitioners and find, nurture and support new voices. They cultivate artists by providing creative space for writers, directors, companies and individual theatre-makers to refine their practice at any stage of their career. The Playhouse’s sector-leading Creative Engagement team works with over 10,000 people aged 0 – 95 every year through a range of weekly workshops and exciting creative projects using theatre to open up possibilities, reaching out to refugee communities, young people, students, older people and people with learning disabilities. At the Playhouse there is always a way to get involved.

 

Leeds Playhouse’s Autumn/Winter 2019 season will take place back in the redeveloped theatre following a £15.8 million transformation. The new building will include improved access to and around the theatre, a new city-facing entrance and the addition of a new studio theatre, the Bramall Rock Void. The full season consists of: FURNACE FESTIVAL 2019 returns showcasing a weekend of works in progress (13 – 16 November); Inua Ellams’ critically acclaimed BARBER SHOP CHRONICLES returns (20 – 23 November); celebrating 80 years since the iconic film THE WIZARD OF OZ  (20 November – 25 January) is the Playhouse’s Christmas spectacular; Leeds Playhouse presents THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS (30 November – 28 December); the The Egg and The Travelling Light present SNOW MOUSE (10 – 21 December), and the Playhouse proudly celebrates 10 years of Relaxed Performances this Christmas-time, pioneered at Leeds Playhouse and now adopted as standard practice in theatres worldwide.